At long last the winter and Polar Vortex’s that came with it have fled the area, making way for a much needed spring season. As we prepare to enjoy the warmer spring weather, however, we must remember the range of health risks that come with the changing season. So be sure to watch out for these five common spring health hazards as you spring into the new season:

1. Spring cleaning: Before tackling this annual ritual it’s important to consider exactly what we’re doing and what we’re using to get our spring cleaning tasks done. Many of the products that we use to clean our homes can become major health hazards when used or stored incorrectly; in the worst case scenarios incorrect usage can lead to a visit to the ER. Because of this the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends taking certain steps to stay safe during our spring cleaning sessions:

  • Keep cleaning products in their original bottles or containers. Don't store them in cups, bottles or jars. Never sniff containers to determine what's inside.
  • Keep cleaning products locked up and out of sight and reach of children.
  •  Read the label before you use a cleaning product. And never mix products together; doing so could create a dangerous gas.
  • Open windows and turn on fans when using cleaners or other chemicals.
  • Wear protective clothing -- long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes and gloves -- if you're spraying pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Stay away from newly sprayed areas for at least an hour, or until the spray has dried. If you clean out your medicine cabinet, keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children while you're working.

2. Tick bites: More cases of Lyme disease occur in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Caused by bacteria, Lyme disease is transmitted to people when they’re bitten by a tick. To reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends minimizing areas of exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, boots, and hats. Tucking in shirts, tucking pants into socks, and wearing closed shoes instead of sandals may also reduce the risk of being bitten. Repellents, such as those that contain DEET, can be applied to exposed skin and clothing; gear can be treated with permethrin for added protection as well. People who spend a lot of time outdoors should always check themselves, anyone who walked with them, and their pets for ticks, as well as monitor themselves for Lyme disease symptoms such as:

  • A rash that looks like a bullseye at the site of the tick bite
  • Flu-like symptoms such as muscle soreness, headache, fever and malaise.

Monitoring for bites and symptoms is very important: Lyme disease can be cured if addressed early, but when left untreated it can cause persistent chronic problems and physical disability.

3. Sunburns: While sunlight has many health benefits, too much of it can become a health hazard. That’s why sun protection such as sunscreen, sunglasses and hats is a must during the spring and summer months, even in the cloudy Steel City. Clouds do not block UV radiation, which is a major risk factor for skin cancer. Even worse, UV rays can be redirected and magnified by clouds, intensifying the effects of sun exposure. So before heading out the door today be sure to apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going out and re-apply every 2 hours. Remember: the sun’s rays are most damaging between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but anytime spent outdoors exposes you to the sun’s damaging rays.

4. Spring allergies: Mention spring and many people quickly think about allergies, which often worsen during the spring months. Allergies are an overreaction of the body's immune system to certain substances, which range from dust to certain foods and medications. During the spring seasonal allergies often flare up as a result of plants and trees start to bloom and producing pollen, a common allergen.

Often an allergic reaction includes symptoms as runny noses and watery eyes; in the worse case scenario, though, allergies symptoms can worsen into a potentially deadly anaphylactic attack, which features symptoms such as skin swelling, rash, flushing, itching, swelling of face or tongue, running nose, hoarseness of voice, chest tightness, breathlessness, fast heart beats, severe anxiety or feeling of ‘impending doom’, pain in abdomen, loose motions, light headedness, giddiness or unconsciousness.

There are a range of medicines available to patients today to help deal with varying degrees of allergic reactions. Doctors recommend avoiding allergens as much as possible and taking allergy tests on a regular basis to make sure you know exactly what you’re allergic to.

5. Driving in inclement weather: Rainy weather does not create a safe driving environment; knowing the risks of driving in bad weather is especially important in a city like Pittsburgh during the spring. Here’s a few key points to remember the next time you get behind the wheel:

Slow down once the rain begins to fall – any amount of water can create slick conditions once it mixes with the oils and dust sitting on the roads.

  • Don’t drive faster than your wipers can clear water from the windshield.
  • Take the time to avoid puddles, which often hide hazardous road problems like potholes.
  • Do not immediately hit the brakes if you begin to slide in the rain – ease off the accelerator and slowly brake to regain control of your vehicle.

By taking a few simple precautions, spring hazards like these can be addressed before they escalate into full-blown health risks or health problems. Hopefully, you’ll find that by following these steps your spring season will be quite enjoyable and hospital free!